Trinity (The Matrix)
If your idea of a heroine is someone whose outfit spits in the face of animal rights activists everywhere — and why wouldn’t it be? — then there’s no reason to look beyond Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity, the leather-wearing badass who serves as second-in-command to Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus on the Nebuchadnezzar. A role whose shadow Moss may never escape from, Trinity was someone who often came across as cooler than the main character, especially since that main character was Keanu Reeves’ wha-spouting Neo/Thomas Anderson. If you’ve got bad guys with itchy trigger fingers and the ability to walk all over walls and do crazy flips and shit, Trinity is a necessity to have at your side.
Of course, these opinions are mostly centered on the stellar first film in the Matrix trilogy, as Trinity’s role was morph(eus)ed into the love interest and pushed to the back burner for The Matrix Reloaded. And though her death in The Matrix Revolutions was necessary for Neo to ascend to full heroism, it still felt like the character didn’t come full circle in living up to her potential. She was a wry mystery whose brain contained secrets that normal humans wouldn’t understand, and she was able to do things with her body that most people can only dream of, as well as being extremely handy with a gun and a chair. Especially a chair. – Nick
Nyota Uhura (Star Trek)
Not every badass needs to be able to kick the crap out of you in a straight-up fist fight, a point proved readily by Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura on Star Trek, though Zoe Saldana’s rebooted version totally could. She may not be known for her technical combat skills — if we’re being honest, was anyone on the original Trek series all that skilled? — but Uhura certainly smashed the hell out of some pretty rigid social barriers in her day.
Just how rare was it to see an African-American woman on TV in 1966? When Whoopi Goldberg first saw Uhura, she famously proclaimed to her father, “I just saw a black woman on television, and she ain’t no maid.” The first African-American woman to fly on the Space Shuttle, Dr. Mae Jemison, has specifically cited both Uhura and Star Trek as key influences on her decision to join NASA. And if that isn’t an impressive enough level of influence, Nichols wanted to leave the show after the first season, but Martin Luther King Jr. himself convinced her to stay on because of the show’s vision of a future of racial harmony and cooperation.
Beyond a larger cultural impact, Uhura was a key part of the crew, equally as brave and competent as anyone aboard the Enterprise, regardless of race or gender. That is definitely someone to emulate. – Brent
Zoe Washburne (Firefly)
Oh, Zoe. Firefly creator Joss Whedon is amazingly adept at creating strong, dynamic female characters, and of course one aspect of those characters is their love lives. Typically in Joss’ works, however, those love lives are a mess. You’re either having to skewer your vampire boyfriend to save the world, or you’re falling for that charming British gent just in time for your soul to be obliterating by a parasitical godling. But with Zoe and Wash, we finally got to see Joss’ vision of a healthy, stable, committed relationship. Zoe and Wash were perfect for each other, in all the unexpected ways the best relationships are. Like Farscape’s Aeryn and Crichton, Zoe and Wash flip the alpha-male marriage on its head: Wash wouldn’t have a chance against Zoe if it ever came to blows, but he’s sweet and always has her back and makes her laugh, a vital commodity when your life mostly involves living on the run from an oppressive government. Wash and Zoe make each other better. So, of course, they’re doomed.
It’s funny that one of the most defining moments of Zoe’s life — the death of Wash — comes near the de facto end of her story. With Firefly’s story collapsed into the salvaged finale that is Serenity, we don’t get to see much of how Zoe will deal with the loss of Wash — or at least, we hadn’t until recently. Thankfully Zoe’s story is continuing in the form of Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, the in-canon comic series that picks up where the movie left off. And unsurprisingly, Zoe is in a very dark place as it begins: pregnant with Wash’s child, still reeling from his death, and with the crew of Serenity arguably in worse shape than they were before they won a Pyrrhic victory over the Alliance during the movie’s climax. It’s a bad time to be Zoe.
Thankfully there’s no shortage of Firefly badassery to suggest that Zoe will carry on, even if she never really recovers. Mal may be the captain of the boat and the one calling the shots, but it’s Zoe whose opinion he trusts the most. They’ve had each other’s back for years, and Mal knows that she is almost always going to be right, even when that truth is irritating as hell. She’s the quiet, calm voice of reason where it’s needed, the voice of conscience when emotions might get heated, and the only person on the boat perhaps more capable of keeping everybody on Serenity alive and safe than Mal himself. Without Wash, Serenity is a darker, more desperate place. But without Zoe? They’d just be flat-out screwed. – David